Chelsea’s youth team progressed to the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals, their fifth successive appearance at the last-eight stage, after victory in South Wales. Schoolboy Dominic Solanke pounced inside five minutes to give the visitors an early lead, before Alex Kiwomya added a second to wrap things up with a little over 10 minutes remaining.
The young Blues will face a trip to Newcastle United in round six, with a date to be arranged in due course.
Manager Adi Viveash made four changes from the side that defeated Sheffield Wednesday in round four, with Under-21 regulars Andreas Christensen, Alex Kiwomya and Jeremie Boga involved from the start. Christensen was partnered in central defence by Dion Conroy, with Ola Aina and Fankaty Dabo at full-back and Mitchell Beeney in goal.
Boga and Kiwomya supported striker Dominic Solanke from the flanks, with Charlie Colkett, skipper Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jordan Houghton making up the midfield trio.
The hosts made two changes from the team that beat Oxford United in the last round. Captain Macauley Southam and striker Abdi Noor, goalscorers that night, kept their places as the young Bluebirds looked for a place in the last eight.
It was a confident start from Chelsea and worries over their recent goalscoring form, a record that has seen them net just once in their last four league games, were banished inside four minutes as last season’s finalists grabbed a very early lead.
Defender Thomas James was aware of the bouncing ball heading towards his own goal but the danger seemed minimal. However, his headed pass back to the goalkeeper was short and the lurking Solanke (pictured below) pounced, slotting home for his 17th goal in all competitions this campaign and his fifth strike in the three Youth Cup games.
The early lead gave the young Blues added impetus and they dictated the game in the opening quarter of an hour. Kiwomya went close at the front post after a low centre from the right by the advancing Dabo, before Boga shot narrowly wide past the far post after good build-up play in midfield involving Houghton.
However, the hosts soon settled after a nervous start and prospered from pressing the Chelsea defenders as they attempted to play out. Dylan Rees almost reaped the rewards of closing down Beeney in the Chelsea six-yard box, only for the goalkeeper to clear in the nick of time, before some intricate play on the edge of the box from Tyler Roche forced Conroy to intervene, getting back and poking the ball off the attacker’s foot as he prepared to shoot.
Conroy was again called into action after an unfortunate ricochet presented Noor with an opportunity and this time the referee adjudged a foul to have been committed on the edge of the box. James stepped up, looking to atone for his earlier defensive error, but could only fire comfortably over Beeney’s crossbar.
Cardiff were growing in confidence, though right-back Rees had to be alert to make an excellent sliding challenge on Aina as the defender (pictured below) embarked on one of his typical galloping bursts forward into the home penalty box, while Kiwomya brought a routine save out of keeper Joe Massaro with a curling lob from distance.
Chances were restricted in the closing proceedings of the half as the hosts defended deep and the Blues were content to remain patient in their build-up play.
The game restarted with the hosts eager to continue to make life difficult for Chelsea to play the ball out of defence.
Sub Jake Watkins found space in behind the Blues defence moments after coming on, though was thwarted by the linesman’s flag, before Viveash made his first change of the evening as he replaced Houghton with Reece Mitchell.
It was down that left flank that the young Blues next threatened as Aina fed the ball forwards for Solanke to chase and the schoolboy striker careered towards goal. His advances were cut short as goalkeeper Massaro rushed out and brought him down, though with recovering defenders and the forward heading away from goal, a yellow card was deemed the appropriate punishment. Boga stepped up and flighted the set-piece over.
Loftus-Cheek fired wide and Boga had an effort charged down as the visitors looked to grab a decisive second goal, before a great move down the left fashioned a chance for Solanke. Good combination play between Aina, Boga and Mitchell saw the latter deliver a dangerous cross into the box, though Solanke’s header flew over the bar.
Kiwomya’s half-volley from the edge of the box was deflected wide and led to a flurry of corners for the visitors, the last of which saw Colkett find Boga on the edge of the box with a driven pass, though the young Frenchman’s shot again missed the target.
Chelsea continued to dictate play, with the deep-lying Loftus-Cheek particularly expressive in keeping the ball moving quickly from defence into the final third. The young Bluebirds introduced another striker to bolster their attacking threat midway through the half, with Bradley Wickham replacing defender Rees, though it was Viveash’s side continuing to threaten.
Kiwomya’s low effort from 20 yards thumped back off the base of the post and Boga looked to have turned the rebound into the back of the net, though Massaro made an excellent save to fly across goal and keep the shot out. However, the home goalkeeper was helpless a few moments later as Chelsea finally broke the Welshmen’s resistance for a second time.
Mitchell did well to scamper over to the left touchline and keep the ball in play before delivering a whipped cross into the danger area. His delivery took a deflection on the way through but fell kindly for Kiwomya and he swivelled and finished confidently from six yards out.
Solanke’s header cannoned back off the bar in the final 10 minutes as the Blues looked to extend their lead, while substitute Eli Phipps forced a rare and comfortable save from Beeney as the final minutes were seen out professionally by the visitors and they secured a trip to Newcastle in the sixth round.
Next up for Viveash’s youth team is a league trip to Aston Villa on Saturday 22 February.
Viveash spoke afterwards about his side’s improved second-half display and looked forward to an exciting sixth-round tie.
‘I think 2-0 flattered Cardiff. It should have been a few more because we had some great moves,’ he said.
‘Dominic’s goal is all about his anticipation and that’s what strikers do. The defender mades a bit of a mistake with the header but it’s a fantastic finish with his first touch of the game. Cardiff wanted to make the game compact so scoring an early goal gives them a problem.
‘Our intensity in the first half was a little bit sloppy and lackadaisical so we had to change it a bit at half time and I was really pleased with the response.
‘We’ve got a great game to look forward to now. It’s a massive quarter-final against Newcastle. We know they’re a good team with some England internationals and they’re in good form but I feel we’re starting to build a bit of momentum after tonight and I liked the look of the second-half performance. It’s going to be a very mouth-watering tie when it comes round.’
Viveash was also eager to pay tribute to the evening’s other goalscorer Kiwomya, though he also had some words about a late tackle by the Cardiff goalkeeper on Solanke.
‘It was a really poor challenge. I don’t like seeing any young kid sent off and I was more worried about Dom being okay but it’s the keeper coming in with his feet. We suffered a similar one like that last year with Reece Mitchell at Derby and this is another one to talk about.
‘It was a great finish by Alex Kiwomya. He ran the left-back into the ground with his tireless work. We couldn’t quite get him in the game and he didn’t have many touches but then he produce a goal like that. He did it last year at Anfield and I was really pleased for him because I thought he worked very hard.’
Chelsea Mitchell Beeney; Fankaty Dabo, Andreas Christensen, Dion Conroy, Ola Aina; Jordan Houghton (Reece Mitchell 56), Ruben Loftus-Cheel (c) (Isak Ssewankambo 83), Charlie Colkett; Alex Kiwomya (Kasey Palmer 90+1), Jeremie Boga, Dominic Solanke
Unused subs Bradley Collins, Tammy Abraham
Scorers Solanke 4, Kiwomya 78
Cardiff Joe Massaro, Dylan Rees (Bradley Wickham 67), David Tutonda, Robbie Patten, Curtis Watkins, Thomas James, Tyler Roche, Ben Watkins, Yora Enzam (Jake Watkins 54), Macauley Southam (c), Abdi Noor (Eli Phipps 83)
Unused subs Thomas Burridge, Jamie Veale
Booked Massaro, B.Watkins
By Sam Poplett
Chelsea TV’s highlights of the game are available now via the channel’s online access.